Coffee Chats With Heidi McElrath
Images taken by Emilee Morehouse & Heidi McElrath
Between the quaint tea shops, English breakfasts and living next to the Royal Shakespeare Company, Heidi's life may seem like something out of a fairytale. While, originally hailing from the United States, the California native decided to pursue her passion for Shakespearean literature by pursuing her Masters degree in the birthplace of the playwright himself: Stratford-upon-Avon, England.
Please introduce yourself to the audience:
I'm a graduate student, actor, and theatre-lover currently living on my third continent. I love reading, running, and researching Shakespearean punctuation—no, really. I've also lived in India and traveled to the UAE, Oman, Thailand, and all over Europe—most recently Spain. I'm turning 26 this year and I'd love to have seen Hamlet as many times before then; only twelve to go!
First thing anyone visiting should know about Stratford-upon-Avon?
It's the birthplace of William Shakespeare! The town is full of interesting Shakespearean sites like his birthplace, school, and grave, but there are also surprises like an abandoned railroad and a tree with a plaque dedicating it to Vivien Leigh! So don't be afraid to poke around.
Describe Stratford-upon-Avon in three words?
Quaint. Quiet. Cosy.
What do you love most about Stratford-upon-Avon?
It may be small, but it's full of theatre! One of the main reasons I wanted to study here was to be close to the Royal Shakespeare Company, which is almost always running several incredible productions, but there are also tons of local amateur and semi-professional groups. No boring evenings.
If you're originally from somewhere else, what brought you to Stratford-upon-Avon?
I came to study Shakespeare at the Shakespeare Institute—can you tell what my interests are yet? We have an incredible library with any book you could possibly want on Shakespeare, literary criticism, or theatre history as well as access to the archives of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC). I cannot imagine a better place to study the greatest English poet.
Favorite place to eat, drink, and indulge?
Benson's. It's a tiny cafe with wooden tables, homey decorations, and a £5 breakfast menu that comes with unlimited tea! What else could a grad student want? It's got such a warm, welcoming environment and it's always full of locals—especially on the weekends. For coffee I love Box Brownie, which is open and airy and about the only place in town you can get a good cup of filtered coffee.
You have 24 hours to lounge around and do anything, how would you spend your time?
I'd wake up for a Benson's breakfast, then take a walk down the Greenway (that's the abandoned railroad). I would probably curl up for some studying in our Institute library, or reading with coffee on the banks of the Avon—if the weather is nice. I'd definitely want to see a show at the RSC, followed by drinks at the Dirty Duck or the Garrick, my favorite pubs.
Shakespeare's birthplace, Holy Trinity Church (where Shakespeare is buried), and the RSC.
What is the best way for a visitor to travel around Stratford-upon-Avon?
It's a little tiny town, so we travel on foot!
Just for kicks, London or Tokyo?
I love living so close to London, but I've only been to Tokyo once and it's addictive! I can't wait to go back.
Anything else you'd like to share?
Full disclosure, I work at the RSC, which is a total dream come true. I saw Romeo and Juliet there in 2010 and spent six years trying to get back! I just got to play Romeo with the Shakespeare Institute Players, which was an incredible full-circle moment. I'm hoping to visit Northern Europe while I'm living on the continent, but most days I'm just happy to travel into a rehearsal.